In 1994, a writer named Sandy Veith sued Universal/MCA claiming Northern Exposure was based on a show he wrote.
Veith was a writer/producer who had worked on several Norman Lear TV series in the 1970s, such as All in the Family and The Jeffersons. He entered into a development deal with Universal in 1981 and wrote a pilot for a series which was called Colletta. Universal optioned Colletta in succession to NBC and ABC, both of whom ultimately passed on the project. At Universal's request, Veith signed agreements extending Universal's right to sell Colletta through the end of 1987. When the series had not sold, Veith's lawyer, Glen Kulik argued the rights reverted to Veith.
About a year later, Universal sold Northern Exposure to CBS. Both Colletta and Northern Exposure were about a young New Yorker, fresh out of medical school, whose education had been financed by a small rural community that needed a doctor. The young man was contractually bound to repay the debt by working in this small community for five years. Both projects began with the young doctor en route to his new life, only to discover the setting and conditions were not as anticipated, and he would be surrounded by quirky characters whom he could not escape. The same Universal executives who had championed Colletta were the persons who sold Northern Exposure to CBS.
MCA and Universal argued that writers Joshua Brand and John Falsey developed Northern Exposure independently and based it in part on the real-life experiences of a friend of theirs.
The case was called a landmark case putting Veith up against the giants Universal and MCA. He won close to 7.5 million in the initial case, which was appealed. In the Fall of 1997, an appeals court upheld the award and with accrued interest, Veith was expected to receive close to 10 million.
Veith died Jan. 4, 2009 in Miami, Fla, after a brief hospitalization for kidney and liver problems. He was 60.
(Compiled from several sources)
There was some speculation that the lawsuit took the life out of the show, but there were many factors:
- After some dispute, Rob Morrow wanted to leave the show to pursue other ventures.
- Josh and John (the creators) moved on to other projects (initially I'll Fly Away, and then Going to Extremes)
- There were many writers on the show, which may have led to continuation problems and more quirky than creative in the later seasons. Although several of the core writers were the same thoughout the entire run